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Sunday, December 15, 2013

What’s in your political stocking this Christmas?

Well, if you’re a Republican, you shouldn’t be getting any gifts except self-made ones, that’s for sure.  If you’re a Democrat, you’ll only get what the Republicans can dish out or help you make, so you’ll get nothing much made after 2010.  If you’re an ordinary citizen, it’ll be slim, but there are some goodies you may like.

If you’re a Tea Party Republican, you will have Secret Santa’s dropping lots of cash into your coffers (sorry – ‘stockings‘) so you can knock off those other so-called conservative Republicans in GOP primaries who aren’t maintaining the principles of the Far Right Wing.  What fun you’re going to have in the New Year!  Those surrogates for the real Santa include Super PACs who front for your secret gift-givers because they like to hide from plain sight fearing a reprisal from ordinary folks who may not like their ideas, choices and methods.
 
A fairly new Super PAC – Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund – will be in your stocking for sure.  HuffingtonPost.com spells out their mission:  “Touting a willingness to take on ‘long-time career politicians’ too scared to ‘rein in out-of-control government,’ Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin laid out the mission of the newly created Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.  ‘If we are going to change Washington and save America, the tea party movement must hold every politician who supports higher taxes and even higher spending accountable -- regardless of their political party,’ she said in a statement. ‘If that means we have to defeat some of these big-government politicians in primaries, so be it‘.”

However, a recent dust-up with some of those “progressive conservatives,” means a bit of dirty coal is going to be mixed with those super PAC gifts in your stockings.  According to HuffingtonPost.com “GOP strategist Karl Rove continues to draw backlash for his recently rolled out Conservative Victory Project, an offshoot of his American Crossroads super PAC, designed to combat a trend of far-right Republican Senate candidates who have won GOP primaries but proven too extreme to win general elections. While Rove has claimed his intent is not to start a civil war with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, some conservatives already appear convinced that his group will work to prop up establishment Republicans and squeeze out promising candidates, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who first attracted attention of Tea Party activists when running for the Senate. “

But, don’t despair, there’s always a savior lurking somewhere.  “On Tuesday, former Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) announced his own super PAC rebuttal to Rove's, declaring that his effort would ‘support freedom-loving conservative alternatives’."

In addition, corporate political action committees (PACs) are continuing to direct contributions your way even though some Tea Party Republicans didn’t follow business concerns centered around the government shutdown.  “Business groups waged a fierce lobbying campaign last month to convince Republicans to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling, but many of the most influential U.S. corporations have not cut off support to lawmakers who did not heed their appeal  in that instance.”  (CapitolHillBlue.org).  Political action committees of companies like Honeywell Inc. and Northrop Grumman continue to contribute to Republican lawmakers who defied the wishes of business.
 
Your stocking appears to be a “mixed bag” but what the heck; there is that little gift that could be here just in time to fill your stocking to over-flowing!  What’s is it?  Your Citizens United gift is about to quadruple.  If SCOTUS finds in favor of “Hobby Lobby,” you are going to have a hit against women, against (President) Obama, against Obamacare, but in support of “religious establishment.”  You can’t beat that – a home run and a walk-off victory!  If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby’s CEO being able to avoid offering free contraceptives under their employee health plan because it‘s against his religious beliefs, then all four gifts are yours!
 
Now, of course, Right Wing-nut Republicans and conservative Republicans (sometimes referred to as RINOs) will have some gifts in common, including corporate PAC money, support of SCOTUS, and those very special gifts from Democrats—the sequester, all the unanswered lies and distortions about the Affordable Care Act, plus the omission (or extinction) of the public option in the ACA, the tortured rollout of the Healthcare website, and the over-promised ability to keep one’s health care plan if you like it (to say nothing about those third party TV ads against Obamacare!).

Otherwise, it’s again a mixed bag because the lousy pieces of coal are piling up:

--shut-down of the federal government that cost the economy $24 billion
--the acceptance of no action on major legislation as a virtue
--John Boehner’s lack of leadership
--Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher program
--cave-ins to the NRA when polls showed voter support for banning assault weapons, closing background check loopholes, limiting ammunition clips
--No jobs bill; no infrastructure bills;
--twice threatened no raising of debt limit and no extension of unemployment compensation
--cutting Pell grants
--attack on women – no job equity; no choice on abortion; ultrasounds; 
--cuts to WIC, food stamps, and Head Start
--disbelief of scientific evidence as to global climate change (and everything else!)
--stalling on comprehensive immigration reform
--support for states voting to restrict labor rights and voting rights
--no reform of tax loopholes, subsidies, rebates, deductions, and tax breaks for rich individuals and corporations
--extension of tax breaks for the rich, and handouts for big conglomerates as in the latest farm bill

So what did ordinary folks like you and me wind up with in our stockings?  Not a lot, unless you count the first 2 years of the Obama administration when Democrats could get something through Congress. 
Here are some of the gifts that keep on giving from the Obama administration’s first term.  I am willing to bet that you forgot about some of these historic accomplishments that will show up in your stocking this year because their effects are on going.

  • Health care reform will cover 32 million uninsured citizens beginning in 2014; it will also cut health care cost growth which is the number one cause of our fiscal problems
  • The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 (Stimulus Bill) that has helped spur economic growth, produce millions of jobs, and lower unemployment to 7% from 10% +
  • The White House press office points to historical data showing falling deficits, as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 10.1 percent in 2009 to 7 percent in 2012.  That’s a 3.1 percentage point drop
  • Passed Wall Street Reform (Dodd-Frank bill) tightening capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions
  • Ended the War in Iraq and brought the troops home
  • Drawdown of troops in Afghanistan; most combat troops have been brought home
  • Toppled Muammar Gaddafi; told Mubarak to leave office and tightened sanctions on Iran and brought them to the negotiating table
  • Eliminated Osama bin Laden and enough of al Qaeda’s leadership so as to cripple their terrorist capabilities and activities
  • Turned around the American Auto industry; out of $62 billion invested by government, expect that very little of that amount will remain un-reimbursed by the manufacturers to the government
  • Recapitalized Banks - got banks back on their feet through “stress tests” and private-public fund to buy their toxic assets with essentially zero cost to government
  • Kicked Banks out of the Federal Student Loan Program and expanded Pell Grant spending
  • Started $4.35 billion program of competitive grants to states to encourage and reward states for education reforms
  • Boosted fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks
  • A series of measures in 2010 and 2011 to help families hurt by recession, spur the economy through stimulus spending and extend unemployment insurance while also cutting payroll taxes
  • Increased support for Veterans and the VA; signed new G.I. Bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over next decade
  • Issued new EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution creating the conditions for the closing of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants
  • Credit Card reforms
  • Improved food safety system
  • Achieved new START Treaty
  • Expanded National Service Programs such as AmeriCorps
  • Invested in renewable technology and research in smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, cleaner fuels
  • Cracked down on bad for-profit colleges
  • Improved school nutrition
  • Expanded hate crimes protections
  • Expanded health coverage for children
  • Expanded stem cell research

And guess what was put in your stocking while you slept during this last year of 2013?  Not all of this can be attributed solely to the Obama Administration as it took bipartisan support to get each passed, but certain positive provisions of the Acts were proposed or sought by the administration while some negative or restrictive provisions were included in order for each to be passed with Republican support.

American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 - (signed Jan. 2, 2013) - Amended the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) revise income tax rates for individual taxpayers whose taxable income is at or below the $400,000 threshold amount ($450,000 for married couples filing a joint return) and increased the rate to 39.6% for taxpayers whose taxable income exceeds the threshold, (2) set the threshold for the phase-out of personal tax exemptions and itemized deductions at $250,000 for individual taxpayers ($300,000 for married couples filing a joint return), and (3) increased the top marginal estate tax rate from 35% to 40%.  Increased the capital gains tax rate from 15% to 20% for taxpayers whose taxable income exceeds the $400,000 threshold amount.  (Sec. 103) Extends through 2017: (1) the American Opportunity tax credit, (2) the child tax credit, and (3) the increased earned income tax credit.  Makes permanent the disregard of tax refunds for determining eligibility for benefits or assistance under any federal program or state or local program financed in whole or in part with federal funds.

National Defense Authorization Act (signed Jan. 2, 2013) - includes some of the planned reductions in defense spending, but has at least $1.7 billion added by Congress to President Obama’s original request

Protect Our Kids Act of 2012 (signed Jan. 10, 2013) - Establishes the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities to: (1) study the use of child protective services and child welfare services to reduce fatalities from child abuse and neglect; (2) develop recommendations to reduce such fatalities for federal, state, and local agencies, and private sector and nonprofit organizations, including recommendations to implement a comprehensive national strategy for such purpose; and (3) develop guidelines for the type of information that should be tracked to improve interventions to prevent such fatalities

Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (signed Mar. 7, 2013) -
Enhancing Judicial and Law Enforcement Tools to Combat Violence Against Women such as expanding the availability of competent pro bono legal assistance.  Also provides grant funds for: (1) training programs in regard to domestic violence and sexual assaults; (2) developing best practices for responding to domestic violence and sexual assault crimes; (3) developing, implementing, or enhancing sexual assault nurse examiner programs and Sexual Assault Response Teams; (4) providing human immunodeficiency virus testing programs; and (5) identifying and inventorying backlogs of sexual assault evidence collection kits.

Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013 (signed Aug. 10, 2013) - establishes additional requirements to improve the fiscal safety and soundness of the home equity conversion mortgage insurance program

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 (signed Oct. 17, 2013) - Made continuing appropriations for FY2014, and stopped the radical Republican’s government shutdown, but only until Jan. 15 2014.

FINALLY, let us not forget the wonderful gifts that keep filling the stockings of our richest individuals and corporations because the Republicans - both conservative RINOs and Tea Party types - keep passing laws to make sure that the .1% especially, and the additional affluent 1% of our citizenry continue to receive gifts from the federal (and other levels of) government in abundance.

--Big oil subsidies
--Tax breaks for the richest 1% such as accelerated depreciation
--When presented with legislation that would save over $2.5 billion dollars in energy costs, Republicans quickly defeated all such legislation, and instead voted in favor of the rich energy companies, keeping consumers paying for unwarranted expenses: failed to reduce the energy efficiency and renewable energy account by $1.45 billion; the construction and expansion account of nuclear energy by $514 million; fossil energy research and development account by $554 million
--Restrictions on wealth re-distribution by elimination or reduction of funding for all social programs like SNAP (food stamps), WIC, home repairs, Head Start, etc.
--Attacks on successful programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
--Attacks on women’s rights and equity through health legislation, social programs and re-definitions of what constitutes violence against women
--Attacks on Labor and bargaining rights
--Increased attention to privatization of government programs - such as schools, prisons, military operations under the guise of “saving money”
--Increase in government no-bid contracts to private businesses and organizations whose political contributions have earned them special privileges and access
--There is strong evidence that being able to contribute monetarily to a political campaign correlates directly with having one’s views accepted and represented effectively, so watch for the further easing of any and all restrictions on contributions to candidates and on restriction of lobbying or gifts from lobbyists
--The Farm Bill will essentially benefit the rich food conglomerates instead of the average farmer.  As one NY Times article reminds us: a Farm Bill extension presents an opportunity to end direct subsidy payments, rein in crop insurance, and protect the programs that are critical to our national identity and benefit those who deserve it.  According to one reporter, “legislators could decide not to reauthorize direct payments and invest some of the savings in good programs while still hitting budget reduction targets.” The Congressional Budget Office reports that this action would save about $5 billion per year, far more than the proposed potential savings of cutting SNAP and other beneficial programs while enhancing crop insurance.

What we have here in our symbolic Christmas stockings is a portrayal of the wide Gulf, the Gap, the Chasm that exists in this country between the Liberals and the Conservatives; between the Left and the Right; between the Haves and the Have-Not's.  President Obama has done a magnificent job in attempting to close that ever-widening income gap, but the Party of NO has thwarted him at every turn.  The Party of Obstruction even dared to say that their main goal and priority at first was to see that Mr. Obama would ever remain a one-term President.  When that mantra was taken away, they seemed intent on destroying any legacy he might have from the many attempts at change and reform that he has undertaken; Affordable Healthcare being the main target.  The government shutdown debacle displayed, in no uncertain terms, that the radical Right has no compunctions about their actions on anything, while the Republicans of a more “progressive” bent, seem to have come to some sense of the “foolishness” of shutting down government, or of always refusing to offer some effort at bi-partisanship.  In fact, a bi-partisan budget deal just passed the House this past week by a majority that was somewhat overwhelming!  Has bi-partisanship made a triumphal return?  That’s doubtful as long-term problems have not been resolved, but perhaps a bit of sanity has stealthily entered the Chamber.

Make no mistake, the elections of November 2014 will mark a moment in the history of this country when we will benchmark progress that could lead to a better future, or, benchmark a regression that propels us backward in time to a period filled with robber barons, unsavory characters, political machines, and with many very poor and destitute people living in squalor and hunger.  It was a time of change just as it is today, when our government just wasn’t prepared or sometimes even aware of the sacrifices, changes, reforms, and adjustments in our attitudes, our thinking and our institutions that would have to be made.  We weren’t ready then; we aren’t ready now. 

We don’t seem able to comprehend the changes that are occurring:  the disappearance of the kinds of jobs we used to have that could last a lifetime with just a high school education; the number of people falling from the middle class into poverty; the number of working poor hanging on for dear life to the necessities of life.  We don’t even seem to recognize that our education system, our health care system, our capitalist system, our transportation system no longer measure up as the best in the world.  Nor do we fully recognize the changes being thrust upon us by a world economy, by technological advancements, by climate change, or by demands for resources like energy and water.  Our environment is slowly poisoning us, and we get cut-backs on research into the spread of  auto-immune-deficiency disorders.  Where do we think we are headed: to the 1850s or the 2050s? 

Check your political Christmas stocking.  There is something missing from many of those stockings -- jobs that pay well; jobs that pay everyone equally, and jobs that provide benefits necessary to a decent middle-class life.  The AFL-CIO reminds us of the one most important reason that this gift is missing.

President Obama “made substantial progress in dismantling the dangerous legacy left by President George W. Bush, and took many steps to put in place a truly progressive, pro-worker agenda.  Taking office during the worst economic downturn in a generation, Barack Obama took America from the brink of a second Great Depression by pressing Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which saved or created 3.6 million jobs -- and he could have done more if not for the resistance from Republicans in Congress.  Recognizing that the ARRA had halted the collapse of our economy but had not been large enough to end the job crisis, in September 2011, President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act (AJA), which was designed to put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work repairing our nation’s infrastructure, and provid(ing) a new round of state and local aid to help keep teachers, firefighters and other public workers on the job.  Most of the AJA fell victim to Republican filibusters.”

Of course there are many examples of the regressive nature of the Republicans in Congress already given in this Blog, but this Jobs Act sabotage by them points up for all to see where we are headed if voters in the 2014 election give a majority of either House to the Republicans.  An ideology built upon the premise that only the private sector should create jobs is a complete hindrance to the foundational principle that the public and private sectors must work together to create jobs, especially if those jobs are aimed at the re-vitalization of our entire infrastructure.  We missed an opportunity for economic recovery stimulus because the Republican Party favored political theory over economic necessity and community revitalization.  We must not allow them to take us any further down this back road to nowhere.

Again: Check your political Christmas stockings.  Unless you have been bamboozled, you must surely be able to tell the gifts from the coal -- the wheat from the chaff.    If so, then you must vow to influence everyone you can to throw out all the Republicans in 2014 who have demonstrated by their votes:

>that they favor deception, inaction and indifference;
>that they support -- and are supported by -- the richest of the rich and have wasted our tax dollars to make sure the rich prosper even in the worst of times;
>that they are incapable of preparing our country for a new century because they have no plan;  
>that we are being taken down the road to fantasyland, where all that glitters is not gold, where the realities of life are swept aside, and where what is reflected back to you by the bombastic light show is a sham

We are being “taken for a ride” to an unknown and unwelcoming place.  You must refuse to go along!